In the Era of Hardening of Hearts?

By Klaas Schilder


One of our magazines recently complained, "We are in the time of hardening of hearts. That hardening is happening on both sides. Among ministers and consistories." Many other magazines quoted this complaint. The office of the General Christian Press apparently incorporated it in its press releases. I saw it hanging in a window of the office of a Christian daily newspaper.

When I first read it I thought of a conversation I recently had with two colleagues in the study of a fellow minister. One of us, the oldest and most experienced — who is himself a hard worker — had said, "I believe that we cannot thank God enough for what He allows us to experience in our churches today. You should read what happened in former days, in the "days of the fathers," about the life, zeal, and doctrines of the preachers in more than one time period. Then you will be more grateful that God gives us in our churches today so many ministers, also among the younger ones, who work with zeal and precision, get the most out of their time for the labour in the church and for the regular advancement of Christian thought and life."

I do not need to argue with the colleague who wrote the complaint I quoted. I only want to place this testimony beside (not in opposition to) his (now that it has been quoted so much). And I am quite certain that he also agrees with that other expression, that totally other point of view.

That which follows here, then, should be understood quite apart from the above mentioned complaint. I want to say something in general about the "environment" in which such expressions (now a regular phenomenon in the press) are possible. I do not think of one particular church paper, but of the press in general.

* * *

1. The observation that we not only live in a time but in the time of hardening, was connected to a likely unverifiable train-conversation. An elder had unburdened himself in that train of some objections against his own ministers. In his congregation there were less church buildings than preachers; as a result, therefore, the preachers could frequently allow themselves the pleasure of spending a Sunday at home, without having to preach for their own congregations or a neighbouring one. But the observant eye of the congregation found them but seldom in their own pew: because the ministers use their free Sundays time and again to preach somewhere else. Why? Well, what else than to earn some extra income? By what means? Of course, more than once by advertizing — how else? Is that necessary? No, not at all. Every minister has a sufficient income. And shepherds and teachers could learn so much from each other while that preaching only makes them tired. Also, there are plenty of student ministers who are eager to deliver a sermon. And so there was much more. The elder then left the train and several magazines did the rest. And today this shameful story about ministers is posted to be read by the people of the street in the window of the same magazine that very gladly arouses ministers to support the Christian press — the displayed paper was a Christian magazine.

I will not say very much about these things. I myself have never written such advertizements, even less placed them. In addition, I suspect that our Christian press, which frequently and correctly requests us to consider that she refuses to place indecent advertizements, and by that suffers a financial loss, nevertheless in reality also reveals their own shame when they reveal the shame of the ministers in their windows. If those advertizements are perceived by its editorial staff as a symptom of hardening of hearts, in such a way that even the press has to get involved, then let the Christian press simply refuse those advertizements. It is interesting that they place the advertizements and in addition publish their condemnation about them. However, I humbly look at myself . . . and have no regret or sorrow. At first I declined all sermon requests in my vacation month . . . and finally still accepted two Sundays (both times in order to be with family). In addition to this I accepted two requests to preach for a friend, and gave a speech in the following month without any remuneration. I even doubt if for those first Sundays the consistories would ever have requested a student minister to come. But I do know that by such sober observations the sources of our current church news is not stopped or turned around. Nevertheless I also know that it will not help if I would ask all the elders who create church news in the train, "What do you know of your minister? What is it to you to judge his conscience? Do you know how many times the value of your car can be found back on his bookshelf? Or (because this question is even more "revealing") should be found back? Is it not possible that your minister is perhaps converted, and for this reason wants to pay the cost of his studies, and wants to study, and because of that needs to buy books, so costly that you could make a complete international journey and pay as much for the fuel as he for the cost of only one study-book? And do you know what contributions he makes, and of how much? And how he does his best to sacrifice his children to God’s kingdom by, for example, letting them study without asking for a scholarship fund? And how many speeches he gives at no remuneration, and how much advice he gives at no charge, for which his former fellow students at other faculties would get paid well? And do you know that several ministers — or their parents — never recover the costs of their studies? They do not pity themselves and do not look jealously at the doctor and the attorney who are treated much differently in this regard. They are only somewhat sad about magazines that do not sufficiently honour their own status and refuse to measure others by the same criteria.

Or even themselves.

But I will stop raising questions: it will not accomplish anything anyway. There will always be some people who are bored in the house of God, and for this reason, for lack of better subjects, busy themselves with such talk. Thus it is no use to go on. And for this reason I will not publish any letter to the editor on this subject, for I plan to leave it with this article only!

* * *

2. This was in my opinion a first factor: there are so many people who do not see the important matters, and for this reason continuously speak of small personalities.

But now a second matter is added to it: a part of the Christian press diligently supports them. And, also in my opinion, we are allowed to write something about that too.

In some magazines we see portrayals time and again of the sins, improprieties, and clumsiness of the ministers. How much money they make and how much is added to that by supplementary income. What they do with their hands while preaching. How many fights they cause. How long their vacations last. Where they should sit on Sunday. And so on. And that is what is called "church news."

CHURCH news.

But if all that belongs in the column of church news, however, then the other columns are looked after very poorly in our Christian magazines. If it belongs in the church news column how the ministers — who are members of the Christian community — use their Christian freedom, as a cause for the flesh or not, then it also belongs in the school column to do the same to teachers, instructors, and professors. Then it also belongs to the regular column to write just as much about the personal circumstances, manners, merits of e.g. those who are exempt from special service. Then it belongs to the political column, to inform our Christian people in the same degree about the personal circumstances, manners of speech, supplementary earnings, and escapades of its members of parliament, political leaders, editors, etc. Then it belongs to the column of the Royal Family — because with God there is no "acceptance of persons" — to give our press an example of the right use of its Christian and constitutional freedom by telling much more of the curiosities that happen to those at the palace. Then the column of the Christian press should write extensively, and with the same obstinate repetition, about the financial, polemical, official, and especially the semi-official matters of the . . . press? — excuse me — of the editors.

But of all those things we hear very little. And we have to conclude then that the column of church news is for lack of serious matters filled with all kinds of things about a group [more about this in what follows.] of people who labour in the church, and is therefore abused — unless the other columns are not filled properly. Because all the columns require the same rules. Preachers, who abuse their pulpit for criticism on others, while they and their friends remain out of focus, are contemptible. I think that journalists, who use their "pulpit" in the same manner, are contemptible as well.

Yet, it is actually a very ordinary question: Why are the columns of our Christian and liberal press (because our Christian magazines frequently follow the so often criticized liberal press) already for so many years filled with all kinds of wining about personal matters of ministers, and not with analogous articles about the personal matters of "our" doctors, burgomasters, notaries, members of parliament, officers, accountants, professors, etc.? I believe — and that explains therefore the second factor — that we have to think here on the one hand of the large place which "the church" [{footnote} At the cost of the „kingdom of God." If the kingdom of God is rightly understood, then the church will also be rightly assessed. If not, then the important questions of "the church" are neglected, and we will get the godless "holiness" of the churches we created, about which the „interchurch" press will not dare to write. Thus an important part of the Christian obedience has been placed on the list of forbidden things. Articles abound about all kinds of sins of ministers, except when they tear up God’s church. But then their disciples in these sins have to take up the pen without delay. For who in the world can ask the question, "What indeed is sin?" Moth and camel — it already is clear as the day: Pharisaism — exactly among those tolerant ones!] still takes in the minds of the people, and on the other hand — and here the sorrows of the preachers sometimes appear to their honour — because the preachers still stand with the people, do not wrap themselves in a nimbus, and do not grant themselves time to take care of their "professional honour" and their "status" — oh that ugly word — etc. I suspect that if there once would be a "preachers society" the senseless criticism would stop. The professional labour associations are at least treated in their persons with journalistic reverence. And train conversations about those who are exempt from service at least do not appear in the newspaper.

A Roman Catholic priest is once to have said to a Reformed minister, "It is your own fault that members of your congregations harp at you. You should be like us. We always make sure we keep at a distance, to stay above the people. Our idea of office requires that and other higher vocations such as doctors, attorneys, and judges do the same."

I believe that that priest was mistaken. We thank God that our ministers reveal all their sides. That is no question of "civilized law" but of conversion. And especially for this reason it is very sad that the press, which should serve "civilization" by maintaining the law of conversion, seeks out especially the children of the theological faculty to rob them of the outward blessings of "civilization." (Civilization means here, among other things: civil courtesy, by which e.g. our doctors and their behaviour, our surgeons, and our business people are protected). For these do not put themselves with the others under the "law" of conversion. From all this the stumblings of civilization appear. To treat the graduates of other faculties with all reverence of civilization: that is alright. To treat the ministers without consideration of persons in accordance to the bare standards of civilization, up till that all is also still right. But if they are not treated in accordance to the law of conversion, to the law of the kingdom of heaven, then things go wrong. That error will soon avenge itself in all areas of life, by the sons of all faculties. Then a publicity scheme will appear that measures everything at all sides by double standards, which, sharing in the corporate sins of a false democracy — and that within the realm of God! — chops at ministers and pretends to be "civil" to almost all groups of others who give leadership in society.

But civilization without conversion, indeed, that is only "worldly." Thus a Christian magazine easily becomes worldly. That is the worst of it!

* * *

3. Thus I come to the third factor: I just said that the law of "conversion," the law of the "kingdom of heaven," is not applied here. Indeed, that partial wining about the persons of ministers is a consequence of totally conflicting standards about the service of God, and about everyone’s part in that service. The foolish idea that the column of the "ministers" is the column of the "church" is only possible upon a wrong conception about the separation of nature and grace. It is a left-over of Roman Catholic and Anabaptist thinking that seems to be impossible to take away by magazines that call for reformation and Calvinism. Whoever is a good Calvinist will not find the person of a priest or minister any more important than the person of any other member of whatever vocation in the Christian community. Do we not all have our office in the service of God? Is that not the common order in the kingdom of heaven? The offices differ but the obligations to serve, the obligations of God’s justice on that service, the climate in which it is to be done, is exactly the same for everyone. Ah, we ministers as a group are no better, but neither any worse, than any other group that is called to an office by God. The obligation which pertains to the minister is another, but no heavier, than that of a journalist, member of parliament, owner of a factory, manager, professor, elder, deacon, caretaker, queen, doctor, broadcaster, housekeeper, mother, etc. Everyone has his office and everyone in that office is under the same obligations. Having the smell of gas or books, wearing a coverall or a toga, obtaining money as a minister or as an active member of the town council or parliament, they are all the same before God. There are ministers who do not deserve their wages and in exactly the same way there are e.g. members of parliament who commit robbery to God when they accept a free train ticket from the "people," because they failed severely in this their office, yes, should not even have accepted it, e.g. because of a lack of analytic power. Or of journalists who should not have been writing because they could not properly distinguish matters. Why is there always that talk about ministers? It is because those who do it in this partial manner fail to apply the Sermon of the Mount to the terms of everyone’s service of office in God’s kingdom. It is because they still live with the non-protestant idea of a "clergy-class" who are not allowed to do as much as another "class" and have to do a little more.

For this reason I do not say, "Please, do the ministers a favour and stop annoying them by involving them in your already annoying busy-ness." No, I say something else: "Please, do Calvin that favour." Please think once about this: all of us in the Christian community are subject to exactly the same law of obligations. All that staring at the ministers in their personal freedom of life, diction, etc., while ignoring nearly all other workers in God’s vineyard, is not very Reformed and for this reason is as such still an aftereffect of the 18th century with their comical wigs. In that time ministers were considered the anointed men. A different suit, a different hat, a different face. Today ministers are more modest, that is, more pious: they wear an ordinary suit, a regular hat, and they can laugh out loud. But now they are still, against their will, pursued by those wig-advocates. Those wearing wigs are now exactly their mediators. For they begin with the presumption that some are more important than other ones. But they should rather leave their wigs to the poets. Ministers are already free of them — at least most of them.

* * *

4. There is yet a fourth factor I want to mention, but with hesitation. For in this I see a result more of a subconsciousness. We as ministers, as far as we do our duty — also within the Christian community — are resisted and more hated in secret than in public. As long as we can "support" some Christian action or other with our "influence," we are doing fine. But if we simply do our duty, do not bother about what the people say, and mention straight forward what we consider to be the truth of God, with a request to our people to apply it and be consistent, then many do not like that. They do not want to deal with those matters as issues — for they are nowhere more afraid of unrest than in the environment of a politicized society. And thus this suppressing of issues, as brought to the fore by servants of the church, avenges itself — frequently unconsciously! — in an entirely fruitless wining about the persons of the ministers. Once again: one is frequently bored in the house of God, or . . . does not dare to deal with the clearly designated work. Of course, I say this very carefully and warn against any generalizing. There are also in the political-social environment still very many who faithfully live along with the church, and will gladly and honestly work along with the administrators of one of the particular offices in the church and listen to them. But I also know examples of others, even of those who write articles. In defence of them I will add to this that the above mentioned impure semi-Roman Catholic-Anabaptist ideas of office have made victims among all of us. That is why the "ecclesiastical" press itself delivered the above disqualified food to the "non-ecclesiastical." And in addition to that, many of the ministers of the Word also did not help to draw the straight demarcation lines of each other’s work areas. However, this does not explain everything, even less: excuse it. When ministers measure each other’s real or alleged sins inside the house one can yet laud their honesty. Let them then remain inside the house and not hang their indictment against the ministers in the windows. But our non-ecclesiastical press is responsible for what she takes over from the ecclesiastical press. They do not have a valid excuse when they say, "They even say it themselves!" For the non-ecclesiastical press has a more general area. It shows by its selection of the news taken over and not taken over what it finds "interesting" for its readers or not. When I receive my church bulletins [As Press Review editor Schilder received church bulletins --- which in essence were weekly magazines --- from many churches. —Translator.] on Saturdays I hardly ever am mistaken when I say to myself, "This tidbit will soon cause a sensation in the press; and that other one will of course be ignored."

* * *

And because what is generally not picked up is usually of a more serious nature (which says nothing yet about the question of whether it is right or wrong) all this sometimes gives me Saturday meditations about the "hardening of hearts" in which we are all possibly bound up together. Then I no longer think of ministers, consistories, or persons, but of the whole Christian community. And of the issues brought up concerning it. And with that I come to my conclusion.

Hardening of hearts?

If an advertizement of a desperate secretary of a consistory, or of a preacher whose motivations I cannot possibly judge, is of enough importance to fill many columns, why are those columns then not also used for other things? Did Christ only judge a particular group in the synagogues? Or did He judge the wicked diplomacy — not the diplomats — which always poluted the air of what His Father had cleared for His sermon and duties of office?

Hardening of hearts?

If it is in the one group — the ministers, the caretakers, the carpenters of the Lord LORD — only a liberal, and a Christian who does not know well what religion is, laughs at this term — then it is with all of them. With all groups (not persons). Because the hardening of hearts is always a general phenomenon. As often as it is general individual prophets will arise but prophet schools will languish. Until an Elijah comes again to visit them, even right before an Ascension. Then there will be conversion again. And by its light the remains of the earlier hardening of hearts will be revealed. This revelation will then be a symptom of the conversion that is at hand. Thus it is worth a word of thanksgiving. A hardening of hearts among the ministers? Now I say, but then gratefully, "Ah, why not? Are there not indeed very many in their group who work splendidly, who turn themselves to diligent study? I know of sharp heads among students and younger ministers who by conscious study see through the theological slip-ups of some honourable, and to this end sometimes very learned, men who do not laugh at or mock it but mourn about it and soon study still more diligently about the question: What is Reformed? And since God’s grace gives us a revival in the preachers as a group, that is why here and there we also see an hardening of hearts. That means that now the hardening is seen where it previously was already present.

Here and there.

And now everyone has to see to it if he can find it, and: where. In order to speak then not about persons but about the issues.

I cannot help it that in tackling that task I do not even dare to mention those advertizements anymore since I do not understand the motivations. These things are no symptoms: they are cases. However, I look for the hardening of hearts in another area. For example in the realm of the press. I am aware that I am in danger of appearing to be a minister who wants to avenge the honour of his colleagues in the press. As far as that goes I am at peace, since already quite a while ago I have written about this. I see the danger of a general hardening of hearts when we let the practical answers to the question of which subjects we will deal with or conceal not depend upon the law of God but on the prestige of our friends — then indeed the protegees of our "civilization" — or to our advantage, or on our "quietude," or on our good name, or on the accessibility of our worldly medallion or some other decoration. It seems to me that it is more important what the churches do or leave undone than what a minister does with his Christian freedom, abused or not. It is also more important to know what the churches find so nice or not so nice of the "interchurch" press. I see the "churches" hardening themselves. They say that they swear by what they confess but they do not know the confession, or apply a salve when it becomes cumbersome. They say that they are zealous for God while they refuse to discuss their legitimacy or right of existence as church. This should be a discussion for which they should shout, because that discussion was the problem at Mount Carmel, and along the ways of such discussions one finds Mount Horeb. But as soon as they have raised some diplomats, civilized or not, they catch each other’s birds [The meaning is that the one "denomination" will gladly accept members from another "denomination" —RAJ.] in matters of church discipline, which appear to be weighty but have not been well-considered, and therefore cannot be taken too serious and are therefore not maintained either, for example about women wearing short hair. They condemn each other’s synods and are not serious about it. They do not take back old decisions against errors but sometimes do not dare to discipline those who err and then conveniently discover that the original decisions were meant against those who erred gravely and find that the young one who now errs does not err gravely. And thus the "gravely" is hanging in mid-air. And that was now exactly the reason to do it. At regular times they call for prayer services, but the prayers themselves disintegrate — also on Sundays — from the climate of the oath: Do me justice, O God, against my adversaries who want to be called Israel. They also loose sight of the broad panorama which sees the whole realm of God placed under discipline, all the plumbers, ministers, and truck drivers together.

Hardening of Hearts?

Certainly! In diplomaCY, which kills us. I am not talking about the diplomaTS. In being silent about subjects which God places on the order-of-the-day with the excuse that speaking about them "does not help anyway," as if we would ever be allowed to speak in as far as we know that it would help! No, we do not preach in such a way, and neither is this the consequence of our doctrines about a "stumbling block" and the "foolishness" of the cross. Hardening of hearts? Indeed: also in the civilized — without conversion that means worldly, in conformity to the world (which was the beginning of liberalism and is the deathly sin of humanism) — respect of everyone’s point of view, as long as he can obtain for himself a small place — with a considerable number of people, including the admission fees — in "Christian action." Now, "respecting everyone’s point of view" is nonsense and sin. We must respect each other’s persons in the fear of God, and for this reason always test each other’s point of view to the "never enough" of God’s respected right. Hardening of hearts? Certainly, by putting the "una sancta" in the clouds, and not believing that as soon as you are but obedient to God’s clearly revealed will, that by that you have shown the only way to reveal the "una sancta," the holy catholic church in what truly belongs to her. That same misplaced logic, which gives the person of a minister way too much honour, by avenging on his good name what does not suit us within the church, also raises every individual to "a little majesty," whose point of view must be respected . . . When? As soon as he gains some influence (that is what we with our cursed, seemingly-pious diplomacy wait for!)? But such a "respect" has in the end plunged all epigones of all royal lineages into misery: the courts then became places of systematic intrigues against the rulers. That is why so many kings and rulers died. Thus also now God’s royal children are deceived by their surroundings. "Ah Sir, that is just your point of view. Of course, we will respect it. But now we will talk about something else . . ." as if you could ever talk correctly about something else than from a particular point of view . . . and then it must also be from the right point of view.

Our hardening lies in our flatteries. [Editor’s note: It is very curious that Schilder mentions this word, since one can notice, in my opinion, a fair bit of flattery in De Reformatie around this time (about 1933-35) from the side of his co-editors to his person, e.g. when Schilder received his doctoral degree and became professor in Kampen. Especially Waterink, who did not agree with Schilder on several fundamental issues — but kept more or less silent about them, flattered him. Shortly after this the vital break came between Schilder and Waterink. History has proven Schilder right many times over about these issues — no wonder, since he based his opinions firmly on the Word of God. However, I do not believe that Schilder can be accused of flattery himself. He hardly ever hesitated to oppose even his best friends because he always dealt with the issues and in that way wanted to hold on to them.] By that we exchange worldly forms of civilization for religious works of conversion. And also in our harping lies our hardening, exactly as in those flatteries. A Paradox? Not at all. For when I harp at a minister or someone else about non-essential matters, and fill my columns with that, while I do not dare to mention a word, because of my "inter-church mentality," about what he on Sunday calls before God his main point, then that carping on his moustache, his hand-in-the-pocket, his sermon-tour, his honorarium — especially because of its poor use to fill the indispensable but painfully-careful columns of church news — is a symptom of the sickness and sin of all of us: that we do not have the courage to discuss the matters of the CHURCH and because of that annoy each other by wining about church PEOPLE; that we are no longer competent to speak about the POINT of view, and for this reason waste our time by nagging about those who STAND — if indeed they stand — on that point of view. [note: point of view in Dutch = standpunt = standpoint ---RAJ.]

God punishes the sins of those who cause schisms in the CHURCH to the third and fourth generation and — to all across the board. Because of mere "courtesy" the children of the fourth generation do not even dare to talk in the newspaper about the proper ethics (I purposely say it thus) on the nevertheless public terrain of the church. The wages of sin is death, and that of tearing the church apart is the neglecting of the church’s heart. The church as CHURCH — as domain under the law of Christ — is ignored. While, for example, the hair of women is mentioned! That is the punishment. From this soil of punishment and curse arises the arid tree of inter-church relationships, and the delight in that tree, even though it fades so quickly.

We work too little; and because of that waste our time by talking. And we refuse to blow the Roman Catholic smoke away which places the OFFICE bearers of God for 90% in the dark, and leave only a couple seemingly-spiritual priests before our withered attention.


[From: De Reformatie, Vol. 11, Goes (Oosterbaan & Le Cointre) 1930v, 48, 354v (28 August 1931).]

Translated by Roelof A. Janssen. Not edited by third party. Corrections are always welcome at

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